Southern Brooklyn

Ignored By City, Gerritsen Beach Comes Together In Recovery Efforts

Paul Paradiso, left, Michele Thorne and Christopher Thorne at Gerritsen Beach Fire Department hall on Thursday.

By Paul Moses

Owning little more than he wore, Paul Paradiso lumbered forward on crutches into the cool dark training hall of the Gerrittsen Beach Fire Department to see if he could find some clothes.

A bar-on-a-barge floated into Gerritsen Beach. Neighbors lightened the mood by sharing shots in it after the water receded.

Doreen Garson, assistant chief of the Vollies, as the volunteer department is called, told him to look inside the big plastic bags heaped on a set of folding tables– there weren’t enough people available yet to sort clothes local residents had donated.

Like nearly everyone living in Gerritsen Beach’s old section, Paradiso, 42, was wiped out Monday night by the rising floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy. The couch floated in the living room of his Canton Court home and the refrigerator flipped over and drifted in the kitchen. His wife, Michele Thorne, 45, said she nearly drowned trying to move their Volvo to safety; she and her 17-year-old daughter got out when the window opened automatically. Then they linked arms and held onto a street pole to withstand the water gushing through their street.

There are harrowing stories to be heard everywhere in Gerritsen Beach, as in Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Sea Gate and Rockaway. But somehow, Gerritsen Beach has largely escaped attention, especially in the daily newspapers. The New York Post did, however, run a 150-word story in Thursday morning’s paper that called the Gerritsen Beach “the forgotten disaster zone.” A few broadcast news operations then reported from the neighborhood on Thursday.

“We sort of got lost in the mix over here,” Thorne said as she paused from looking through piles of clothes to find a coat for her 12-year-old son, Christopher Thorne. When she had the opportunity on Wednesday, she posted her own message-in-a-bottle on Facebook, saying that “We need help” and “nobody knows how bad it is out here.”

Still, with or without attention, Gerritsen Beach seemed quite capable of taking care of itself. The Vollies, working with the pastor of Resurrection Catholic Church, set up a shelter and all-round refuge with food, clothing and heat in the parish hall on Gerritsen Avenue.

Local residents didn’t want to travel the nearly five miles to the closest city shelter, located at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School on 20th Avenue, said Michael Zuosta, an officer in the Vollies who assisted at the shelter. Besides, the saltwater surge had destroyed most of the cars in the neighborhood.

By 2 a.m. Thursday, the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management provided some cots, Garson said, adding that State Senator Marty Golden had helped arrange assistance. “The city kept saying they were going to get back to us,” she added.

The biggest concern, Garson said Thursday, was that when power returned to the neighborhood, fires would follow as the electricity ran through flooded homes. Volunteers, city inspectors, and National Grid workers were going door to door, trying to make sure electricity and gas were shut off. In some cases, residents weren’t home.

“We don’t have enough manpower,” Garson said.

But Garson, who grew up in Gerritsen Beach, said she understood. “The city is so overstretched … We’re used to taking care of ourselves.”

Gerritsen Beach is in “Zone B” – a secondary flood plain where evacuation was not mandatory. It’s surrounded on three sides by water, but Plumb Beach and the Belt Parkway to the south serve as a protective barrier. As a result, the speed and severity of the flood surprised many residents.

Paradiso said he was trying to lighten the atmosphere by watching the movie comedy The Dictator when the flood struck. “You figure you laugh a little bit,” he said.

When the water suddenly surged, he tried to keep it out by putting towels under the front door. Then he improvised with wet towels to build a sort of channel that funneled the water into the basement. But the space below filled up, and the water kept rising on the first floor. His wife, having survived the flood that consumed their car, was in water up to her shoulders on the first floor.

The family took refuge upstairs; most of the couple’s belongings were destroyed on the first floor, where their bedroom is located. Paradiso, a mechanic who installs electronics on cars, said his car was destroyed – saltwater damage can’t be reversed, he said, adding as he pointed out at the street, “Every one of these cars here is just a pile of steel.”

In a neighborhood with little mass transit – one bus line on Gerritsen Avenue – not having a car seems to compare to the shock of losing a home. “A car is not like losing a couch or something,” Paradiso said. “You lose your car, you lose your outlet to the world.”

Rental cars, generators, gasoline: These are things Gerritsen Beach residents need right how.

Still, Paradiso said, he was thankful to live in Gerritsen Beach. In the midst of the flood, neighbors had burst through his door to see if he was safe; he had recently undergone surgery on his leg and was using crutches to walk.

“The people around here are top-notch,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Pat Mooney, 45, who pointed out the mark showing that water rose to four-and-a-half feet on his home on Seba Avenue, said much the same. He and Eddie Brancale, 45, and other neighbors were out in front of his house, warming themselves before a blazing fire – they had put some logs on the gas grill.

“I’m grateful to God that I live in Gerritsen Beach because I have such good neighbors,” he said.

Comment policy


  1. I just want to let Gerritsen Beach residents know what my office has been doing in conjunction with Assemblyman Alan Maisel, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, District Leader Frank Seddio and Speaker Chistine Quinn.
    First, I have been on the phone with anyone who will listen, starting with FEMA and the Office of Emergency Management to let them know that in my view, save for Breezy Point, that the Beach was hit as hard as any neighborhood in the City. It is critical that the decision makers are aware of this as they allocate resources.
    I have made several tours of the Beach, including a visit last night to the shelter at Resurrection. I have reported a number of what I feel are hazardous conditions and demanded more immediate action than we appear to be getting.
    Working with my Council colleague Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, who is a Minister, I have been working with Bishop Joseph Mattera to get the same type of emergency supplies that were delivered in the wake of Katrino to my district, beginning with Gerritsen Beach. I am anticipating at least one truckload of material will be arriving from Tennesee in the next few days. Through Frank Seddio, we have gotten a forklift so that the truck can be quickly unloaded. John Douglas of GB Cares has graciously agreed to supply the volunteer help to distribute the equipment as needed. I am expecting generators, pumps, clothing and food.
    We heard last night from the Vollies that there is a need for flashlights and batteries. We have reached out to a local business that is expecting a delivery of these out of stock items today and hope to have them delivered to Resurrection Church today or tomorrow.
    For those of you who have had notices from a company called PB Diagnostic(?) saying they are FEMA approved, we have in fact confirmed that they are. You should cooperate with them fully as it will expedite the FEMA claims process.
    I have requested that a FEMA Disaster Center be located in Gerritsen. For days now, we have been calling our United States Senators about this. There are only 7 in the entire NY region thus far and only one deployed in Brooklyn (along the Coney Island waterfront). OEM has assured us that more are being transported as we speak and I have been led to believe that Gerritsen is high on the priority list. (It had better be.)
    We have been posting information about the FEMA and claims process since Tuesday. Bites readers have seen some of it. Unfortunately, as per Dan Cavanaugh Jr. he has been busy working iwth the Vollies and has not been able to post them on
    Assemblyman Maisel will be touring the area with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and State EDC to help business begin the claims process.
    For those of my constituents in other impacted neighborhoods: Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay to name a few—we are making many of these same efforts. If we are able to get FEMA processors to a specific location, we will notify everybody by robocall so that time is not lost.
    My district office has remained open to late hours since Tuesday morning. Our phone number is 718-241-9330. Our voice mail has not been working well, so if you do leave a message, try to call back to speak to a member of my staff.
    We will continue to do everything we can over the next few days and weeks to help everyone get back on their feet.

    Councilman Lew Fidler

  2. Thanks Lew! Many of us find it extremely ironic, that some of the hardest hit areas of our immediate region, like Gerritsen Beach, Breezy Point, and Staten Island, contain an overwhelming majority of people, who claim goverment is always on their backs, want less government, and less so called government interference in their lives, and of course, the given, less taxes! Yet at this tragic and difficult time for many of us, it is they who are claiming the government has failed to help them, are clamoring for more government assistance, and want the magic wand of government to restore their lives! Might this be a wakeup call for them? I doubt it….I wish the best for all you Bites folks out there, and isn’t it interesting that the media, except for Bites, has barely mentioned the hardships of us folks in Homecrest and northern Sheepshead Bay! Me thinks, it’s about money and language?! Stay safe! Ayya, and Das Vadanya everybody!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here